Professional golf has been clamoring for a bona fide rival for Tiger Woods since he turned pro in 1996, but up until recently, there wasn't enough competition to make any sense of it.
Sure, there were attempts. Phil Mickelson was an obvious choice. So was Sergio Garcia. And they've had their moments with Tiger. But neither ever really materialized into what anyone could justify as a true rival.
As fans of golf, we like it when they're paired with Tiger because it's fun to watch some of the game's most popular players in the same group, but are these pairings rivalries?
I don't think so.
Enter Rory McIlroy. After McIlroy won the U.S. Open as a 22-year-old last year, comparisons to Tiger Woods at the same age began. And with McIlroy's recent win at the PGA Championship, in vintage Tiger fashion by eight strokes, the noise is now getting louder.
Rory McIlroy vs. Tiger Woods. Is there any merit to a rivalry in the making?
I hope so, because Woods needs a rival, if for no other reason than to give him a kick in the pants. He seems to have lost the killer instinct he once had in the major championships, evidenced by his less-than-stellar play on the weekends of this year's majors.
This is what Tiger had to say following his final round at the PGA Championship last week:
"I came out with probably the wrong attitude yesterday," he said. "And I was too relaxed and tried to enjoy it, and that's not how I play. I play intense and full systems go. That cost me."
I really didn't expect to hear that from Tiger, and yes, I think we should read into it. I think he's struggling with his mental game. It's almost as though he has psyched himself out in the majors.
As the great Bobby Jones once said: “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course—the space between your ears.”
I don't need to rehash the last couple of years for Tiger. Everyone knows the story. I've probably told it a dozen times myself—at least.
But in the midst of what has been a very solid year for Tiger with three wins and some nice statistical accomplishments, he has to be a bit bored, if I may use that term, with his own game. After all, Tiger has already been there, done that when it comes to the accolades of professional golf.
The only thing left for him to do—at least that interests him at all—is win five more major championships to eclipse Jack Nicklaus' mark of 18 majors.
Five more majors. That's all? That's a lot.
At 36 years old, Tiger has his work cut out for him. But, I'm thinking it could happen quickly. I wouldn't put it past Tiger to get hot and roll off three or four majors in a row. And I believe a heated rivalry could help give him a push.
I can't think of a better opponent than McIlroy.
I'm not saying Tiger is no longer able to get motivated on his own, but in the midst of a major championship dry spell—it's been four years since his last major win—some spirited competition with another player—one who is being compared to a younger version of himself, no less—can't be a bad thing.
And it would be a win-win situation for fans of the game—and the game itself.
Take next week's PGA Tour playoff opener as a perfect example. As the top two players in the current FedExCup points race, Tiger and Rory will be paired together for the first two rounds at the Barclays.
The buzz on this head-to-head matchup has already started. It only brings more attention to the tournament, the PGA Tour playoffs and the game of golf.
Whether you like Tiger or not, he's good for the game. And whether you like Rory or not, he's also good for the game. If the two battle it out on a regular basis, especially in the final rounds of tournaments—I believe it's only going to make Tiger a better golfer.
Tiger vs. Rory. It might be the extra push Tiger needs to get over his major championship drought and into the record books as the golfer with the most major championship victories in the history of the game.